Sunday, 30 October 2016

Accepting the new future God brings

In answering the call that is God, which is a faint indistinguishable whisper in the background of our lives, we are plunged into strangeness.  However, it is this very strangeness and difference that holds us back from embracing that call.  Fear and insecurity in the face of the unknown holds us back from a deep commitment.  We often watch and watch like a watchman keeping a look out (Hab 2.1) waiting to see or catch the sound of God's voice whispered on the wind.  Yet, when that call comes we turn aside and look inwards rather than outwards for fear of the presence of God's call.  Our security is found when we look inwards and form walls of legislation to hold the incipient call out.

No matter the wall, God calls us to open ourselves up to our neighbour.

Unlike the prophet we do not stand in anticipation for an answer but on the lookout for something that makes us uncomfortable.  This is true of all institutions and individuals in today's world.  We only have to look at the behaviour's of successive Australian governments and their pursuit of independent appointments who are the voice from the outside (aka Trigg and Gleeson).  We are all called to see the vision of the future that God brings to us, not in fear but with joy, so that we can fulfil the potential of that call.  It is a scary place, especially for those who have embedded themselves in places of power and authority, whether that is financial, political or other.  We are never sure of what God's call means and it is this uncertainty that creates a void in our lives.  We would like to own the future but God's future is more likely to own us removing our power, our authority, etc.

Scripture gives us an example of how we should act, in the spontaneity of a child and the 'rashness' of inhibition. The small man Zachaeus (Lk. 19.1-10) has the desire (vision) to see the Christ and in doing so places himself in God's path.  In doing so he has already thrown away his dignity and status by climbing a tree. He is like the watchman looking out to see the call coming towards him.  In receiving a personal call he not only acts but does so with alacrity ignoring the disapproval of the crowd.  If we have only the reports of the words asked of Christ regarding 'sinners', how much more would the insults have been for the man Zachaeus, who was already despised.  Our response often indicates the level of our fear for the new. It indicates how we can create the negative place/state that we in actuality abhor, yet this is where we retreat to in defense.  Can we looking out from our comfortable place envision a displacement of our lives from our control into the hands of a future that is uncertain and incomplete but filled with God's presence?

This starts with our neighbours, or rather it starts with our attitude and response to our neighbours.  We may not want the other to be a part of us but God's call is for us to encompass, include and walk with our neighbours.  We are to love them through adversity, triumphs and sickness not because they are rich, not because they will be able to do something for us or to smooth our path in life.  The only way we can begin to know, let alone love, our neighbour is to begin to see life as they see life.  Our problem is that we see life as a problem and so knowing our neighbour becomes a problem.  Christ challenges us to walk with our neighbours and to see through their eyes as we begin to love them.  This does mean though that we should be able to meet them in their own spaces or at least in spaces that feel comfortable for them.  Christ goes into the home of Zachaeus he does not ask him to come to him.  He does not put up a fence and make it difficult but rather opens his heart and his will to see Zachaeus for who he is as a person of the people of God.  Not judged for appearances (job, political views, sexual orientation, race, etc) but for the person who is Zachaeus.

God calls us into a new future that is different, that is changed.  How we respond is up to us as we listen to that deep call on our lives.  We can build our walls and fences even higher or we can dissolve all of those barriers and welcome God's call not in fear but in hope, not by turning inwards but by embracing those who are different and out side of us.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Imagine the impossible dream

God's work is an impossible dream.  A dream that sees a place of justice, peace and loving relationship.  A dream that we as Christians dream and believe in as we live out our lives worshiping God and moving towards Christ as we attempt to live the Christic life.  This is as hyperbolic as the trunk in my eye as I poke around in yours for the minute speck, or as far fetched as seeing a Camel pass through the eye of a needle.  Christ proposes just such an impossibility in Luke (18.25), an impossibility that is open to God's grace to transform and change to increase or decrease our response to God's love.

Throughout the scriptures there are these fantastical images portrayed as being what God is doing or what the Kingdom is like.  The desert blooms and highways are put in straight and well maintained.  What is God trying to tell us as we read these parables, stories, images, etc.?  Everyday life seems to be somewhat of a let down if we think of these things being reality.  They are dreams that someone else is having and have nothing to do with our own boring lives.  If you go onto the net and search out modern surrealism, which of course is associated with Salvador Dali, you can see these dream like images coming to life. I particularly like the work of Eric Johansson and the changing perspectives of Rob Gonsalves, who takes an Escher like view of life that suspends our normal way of seeing.  In a way this is the view of life that the scriptures point us to.  We are being asked to suspend our normal thought processes and enter into God's life fully.  A life that upsets our traditional way of thinking, a life that we will turn away from if we cannot suspend our outlook on life, just as the young rich man cannot do in the Gospel.

What do we change the camel or the needle?

This is a life that gives up everything only to find that what we have given up returns to us in new, obscure and revitalising ways.  This is what it means to answer that small insistent voice that is God.  In listening for that voice we are too often overcome by our past and our pre-conceptions that have been built on the past.  The young rich man is unable to overcome his past to which he clings.  He is disappointed because he was looking for something that he could build on that was based on his past experiences.  Christ calls him to let go of these preconceptions, just as God calls us to let go of our modern pre-conceptions as to what our 'parish is', what our 'mission' is, what our 'worship' is and even what our 'church' / 'diocese' / denomination' is.  We are asked and are being asked to radically shift our viewpoint from one that is centred on ourselves and how we perceive reality towards one that is centred not only in the other but also in God.

So the question that we should perhaps be asking is: do we change the camel or the needle?  It really depends on what we think the camel or the needle is as to what we should change.  If we think that the needle's eye represents the small opening that God is calling us from and into then it is most unlikely that we change this.  We may not listen or we may not see or we could ignore this call but we cannot change this call on our lives.  However, if the camel represents our own lives then it is we who have to change.  Only by changing our perspective will be able to pass through the small event that God calls us into and beyond.  It is our baggage and our perceptions of who we are and what God calls us to that need to change.  Not only in terms of our involvement in God's work but our involvement in life. 

We need to start seeing things from God's perspective, something that is very different  almost surreal, certainly not from our sheltered understanding of who we should be but God's understanding of who God wants us to be.  We step from the desert that we have created into the new life that God has always wanted us to have. In order to do that we need to let go of our past and embrace the call that comes to us from the future, the call that comes from God.  To see the green pastures of God;s presence and the love with which he upholds us in our self imposed wilderness.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

The curtain in our minds

In this week's collection of readings there is the distinctive parable of the Pharisee and Publican found in Luke (18.9-14) which as many others have stated is a trap for the unwary when we start to think through these two characters.  Too often we come away at the end feeling ourselves prideful as a result of our own belonging and the buzz that it gives to us in our very being. The moment we come out of our comfort and are confronted by the needs of the world around us and say 'There but for the grace of God go I.' is the moment we have fallen away from God.  This applies equally to ourselves as individuals and ourselves as communities (parishes, diocese, denominations, etc).

It is a commonality of our modern society that we are pressured into a mind set that is focused on one thing and one thing only; the need to be ahead.  Those who are portrayed as being successful are the ones that we are encouraged to emulate.  This conditioning comes early in our lives as our school system encourages and celebrates such behaviour. A culture which we cohabit as we encourage our children to achieve the best and be accounted as the best. Who wants to celebrate a failure? Although even in failure we have a tendency to want to be the 'best' by over dramatising our situation to draw attention and the sympathetic ear.  At every turn we are held up in comparison to a 'gold standard' that society creates as it imagines itself 'better' than the other.  Our gurus in society are many and diverse each catering to the whims of our desires so that we can draw a curtain behind which we can hide the reality of our neighbours and the other. We follow each one hoping that at the end of the day they will lead us into a betterment of our current lives.  The 2nd letter to Timothy underscores the danger of this as it leads us away from God (2 Tim. 4.3-4).

It is only by drawing back the curtain that we can see the reality of Christ in the world.

This view of seeing ourselves as 'better' than the other that is driven by our global society, is something that we, who have classed ourselves within the Christian faith journey, should recognise from our baptismal vows and faith formation journey.  It should be abhorrent to us. This is the selfish attitude of 'I want' that is encapsulated within the story of the eating of the Tree of Knowledge.  The attitude that continues to darken our minds by drawing that curtain across those things that are true but unwanted in our own personal lives.  It draws a curtain across to say that everything that is behind it does not add to our wants and our needs, The wants of our lives rather than the needs of others are brought in front of the curtain into our attentive minds.  We see ourselves as being epitomes of Christ like living when we peak a glimpse behind the curtain, presuming that this limited giving of ourselves to the needs and aspirations of others, is all that is required.  It is only when we recognise that we ourselves are the Pharisee rather than the Sinner in our lives that we will begin to recognise that have hidden Christ behind the curtain.  The moment we place our priority above the priority of the other is the moment that we draw the curtain across our minds hiding the Christic presence.

Jeremiah calls from the past and reminds us today of what God has stated ' I shall set my laws within them, writing it on their hearts' (Jer. 31.33b).  It is this soft voice that rises within ourselves that calls us into a future that is filled with God's promise.  A promise that is governed by love of the other, a promise that galvanises our lives into an effort of giving.  A commitment we make each week as we seek to renew ourselves and undertaking our metanoic return to the call placed upon us which we fail each day.  We are encouraged through our commitment to our faith to draw back the curtain that we have placed to reveal another that is torn in two.  Confronting us is the nakedness of God's love for the other which we are induced through the call to display in our daily lives.  We are called to commit our lives to a way of self sacrifice, of loving and giving, of walking alongside and not judging, comparing and forsaking.  A life that becomes anything we want it to be rather than a life governed by the perceptions of others.  A life committed to a recognition of God's grace in our lives and the poverty of our commitment to the call to love.  We are called to live with God's laws living in our hearts, hearts made from flesh and blood not stone and concrete.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Thankfulness the imprimatur for fruitful giving

How often do we really think about giving thanks for the day or for life itself?  I would suggest that this is rare for most people as we tend to have a expectancy of the good coming to us in our lives.  This can be seen in the Gospel story from today and the tale of the lepers (Lk 17. 11-19).  Only one of the lepers returns to give thanks and here the turn in the story is seen as that one is a person outside of the religious / social structures of society.

In looking at the history of Australia it has been a place that is extraordinary lucky or rather blessed in some respects while perhaps holding true, even in 2016, to the original quote by Donald Horne.  In many respects no matter where we live we are also lucky or blessed by the fact that we are who we are, just as the country is.  In thinking about this and our life situation we concentrate often on the falls, the despairs, the bad times and are neglectful of the good times in our lives.  Ironically we often celebrate or perpetuate the story of our failures rather than the stories of our good times. The good and happy days are forgotten quickly and it is only the dark of a lifetime that is remembered or stands out in our memory.  The great things that come are way are often overlooked as we continue our lives with the understanding that this is what / how life is and should be.  This is when we are at our happiest, it is when we live life to the fullest, it is when we have life and this is when we forget as we want to believe that this is 'normal'.

In making the assumption that this is normal we appear to turn off our thankfulness.  Everything is going well so why do we need to give thanks?  It is only following times of trouble that we appear to need to say thank you for deliverance or thank you for getting to a new place as the trauma of the past is re-lived until it becomes substantive rather than the small part of daily life that it was.  The trauma tends to overtake our thinking and everything else is put on hold.  Past successes mean nothing and become dreams of the past.  Something that is recalled as myth or as a story of the 'Golden years' forgetting the heartache and the trauma that was experienced to get to that golden moment when everything seemed right.  Moments that are vividly recalled in the stress of our present trauma to call us into the dreams of the past rather than into the possibilities of tomorrow.

It is with a thankful heart we give of ourselves generously

One of the early theologians and Church Fathers, Ambrose of Milan, wrote relating Genesis 1.21a to our own situation in the world.  We are made to swim within the environment of the world, life's up and downs, the good times and the horrific but we only do so as we accept that we are created for this world and to be in relationship with each part of it including our fellow creatures.  In doing so we swim through the troughs and rise high on the crests of life as storms come and go.  We do this in thankfulness rather than in a fugue state of complete despair and loss as if we are forever trapped within the troughs rather than seeking the voice that calls us into the heights and peaks if we were only to abandon ourselves to the call.

In returning to a state of thankfulness we re-energise our lives.  We are able to reinvent what we give of our lives and our selves over to God's call.  In a state of gratefulness we are able to abandon our pre-conceived needs, those things that hold us back from our giving of ourselves.  Those things we hoard to ourselves, just in case, of that which never materialises in our own lives.  A hoard that goes nowhere, does nothing that in the end becomes no more than  memories and trinkets squandered here and there for our own self - gratification.  The transcendence of God's call that we give thanks for enables our hearts to re-envisage our neighbours.  To reach out in love and transform the lives that we come into contact with in our daily lives.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

From small things big things grow

In our fruitful meanderings over the last few weeks we have been looking at commitment and how our giving  / faith enables our structures to grow.  This is all very well and good but for these things to happen we ourselves also need to grow.  In Luke, Christ uses the mustard seed as an example of small to big (Lk 17. 5-7).  This is a perpetual journey in our lives it is not something that happens overnight.  Often we can sow seeds into the ground and nothing appears to happen for months on end, it is only when conditions are right for the seed to grow that we begin to see signs of growth and plenitude.

God has planted a seed into each and every heart as God has fashioned us in his image.  In our yearning for God we seek that presence which symbolises God in our lives.  We yearn for God in the midst of worship and we attend that worship seeking for the smallest hint of God's presence.  In seeking for that hint, the small voice that calls to us with an unending call, we are distracted by the larger needs of our selves.  In the distraction, we seek for our own comfort demanding the things that we expect rather than the things that God calls us to.  Moving into the distraction we turn our worship into a religious club that caters for our needs; by providing the servants who deliver what we want or expect rather than serving the other that calls to us.  This behaviour leads to our seeing worship and the gathering of the community as an option, one of many, that happens at a set time.  It is alright we do not have to come into community to rejoice and worship God.  Our individuality is paramount and so we become isolated from the rich source of life that feeds the seed.  This is tantamount to placing a seed on the shelve with the hope that it is going to grow without nutrition and the water of life.

Poor is our faith if it has not been nurtured or watered.

If we are to become fruitful and allow that seed that God planted to grow we need to ensure that it is fed.  It is all well and good feeding the seed with good nutrition but if it is not worked in then it is not going to do anything.  We may as well leave a lump of dry manure over the dry seed on the windowsill and still expect it to produce.  For us to work the soil and the richness that feeds us means that we actually have to commit ourselves to a lifetime of work.  Once we begin to commit ourselves to the labour that we are called into we begin to feed the seed that God has planted; we begin to work what we have been given.  The commitment though has to be full, it cannot be halfhearted.  We cannot make plans to fulfill God's promise by sitting back and belonging to a club which we attend because it gives us pleasure. We actually need to make sacrifices in our way of life to become more like Christ and reach out to the other.  Our sacrifices need to be real, not a pittance out of the corner of our pockets but something that manifests in God's presence in the world.

Once we have committed ourselves and sacrificed our lives to becoming living sacrifices to God do we start to work the soil and bring the nutrition that the seed requires to grow.  Dry soil though, however hard it is worked will not produce any crop, let alone one that will deliver 100 fold.  So we need to water that soil with the water of our lives spilled into the rich soil of God's work in us.  In giving our lives into and for the work that God has called us to we begin to bring the water that is life to the seed of hope that has been nurtured in the dry soil of our abandoned lives.  Our lives filled with happiness, sadness, wrecked by anger and frustration; Our lives which we keep to ourselves and mourn over in the stillness of the night.  It is here in our griefs, joys, frustrations, poverty, illness and health that the water of life for the seed of hope flows.  Yet, we hold it in, we encamp around it, preventing this precious resource from ever leaving us, only to find that it stagnates and queers our lives rather than the plentitudinal harvest which comes when we squander it allowing it to flow into others desperate lives.

We fail to commit ourselves whole heartedly like living sacrifices as we pray at the end of our worship.  We fail to commit ourselves to the path that God calls us along, we fail to give as the widow gave.  We see ourselves as having having cowardly spirits rather than the spirit that inspires power, love and self-discipline (2 Tim 1.7) and thus fail to give of ourselves to the other.  In deed I can but Lament along with Jeremiah (1.1):

How deserted lies the parish, once thronging with people! 
Once great within the Diocese, now become a widow; 
once queen among the deaneries now put to forced labour.

(Place any words you want in the verse to convey the lament for your own place)